Things to Do in Western New York, with Kids: Niagara Falls, Lewiston, Lockport, Olcott & Great Lakes
I’ve been married to a Western-New-Yorker for 14 years and have visited Western New York many many times. Unlike New York City, this part of the state has farms, orchards, lakes and a slightly slower pace of life.
For a long time I thought a trip to upstate was a trip to the country, with no city to explore and nothing to do. And much of it is “the country”… but once I started actually looking around, I found a place that was perfect for a family vacation. Relaxing pace but lots to learn, and a lot that is different than our hometown of Houston.
Room to run, reasonable prices, relaxing pace and a lot to learn… Kids and parents can love this trip.
Just looking at Niagara Falls is like seeing a nice postcard… but if you spend the time to experience the Falls, it becomes amazing.
Not only is the waterfall beautiful, it is very useful for hydroelectric energy and just seeing it makes geology fascinating.
Niagara Falls is not the tallest waterfall in the world, but it is the fastest moving. Nearly 6 million cubic feet of water go over the Falls every minute during peak tourist hours. It is located on the Niagara River, draining Lake Erie into Lake Ontario.
The water plunges over the Niagara Escarpment, which is a long cliff that runs from New York to Illinios. You can learn all about how this escarpment was formed at the Discovery Center.
And better yet, you can experience Niagara Falls on the Maid of the Mist or Cave of the Winds.
Take a trip next to the American Falls and the big Horseshoe Falls and see just how powerful the water is. When you return, get off the boat and take a very wet walk up to the Crows Nest next to the American Falls.
All in all, I can tell you that “doing something” is way better than just going to take a picture. For many many years we just parked and admired. It was when we bought the tickets or packed a picnic that we had the most fun.
Since we were determined to “do something”, our next stop was learn about geology and history by visiting Lewiston.
Just 10 minutes from Niagara Falls is the beautiful town of Lewiston. River front property with parks, restaurants and quaint little shops.
Over 10,000 years ago, this was the site of Niagara Falls. It’s moved back nearly 7 miles and left this little town for us to explore.
If you take a boat ride, like the Whirlpool Jetboat Tour, you can get upclose to the the American and Canadian hydroelectric stations, cross the Devil’s Hole rapids, see the edge of the whirlpool and, on the tour we took, get absolutely soaked with water from the Niagara River.
My older kids were tall enough for this ride (44″) and after our first run through the rapids, they told me it was “the most awesome thing they had ever done”.
After learning about the Underground Railroad, taking a boat tour, getting soaked, changing clothes and eating dinner, we were ready for another lesson about Western New York.
How is it that ships move across the state, from Buffalo to Albany, with a giant escarpment in the way?
About 45 minutes from Lewiston is the town of Lockport, on the Erie Canal.
Connected to the Niagara River (the same river tumbling over the falls), is a man made canal called the Erie Canal. This was originally built about 200 years ago, to ship goods from Albany, on the Hudson River, to Buffalo, at Lake Erie. It connected the Atlantic Ocean to the Great Lakes.
The trick is, this canal has to move boats down, and up, 565 feet of elevation differences. To do this the canal contains 36 locks.
Lockport, New York has the locks that move boats up and down the Niagara Escarpment. And you can see them up close.
Visitors are allowed to walk along the canal and get close to the locks. When vessels come through, you can see the “boat elevators” at work.
We walked through a dark and chilly man made tunnel that was carved out of solid rock. This was the water tunnel under 3 factories. Water from the canal ran through the tunnels, powered a water mill that ran the factories with water mechanical energy.
I was wondering what I had signed up for while we were climbing through a giant water pipe, but it turned out to be really interesting and educational. (My husband had grown up next door and never knew about these caves or factories. In fact, most of Lockport had forgotten about these old tunnels until a taxi cab fell through an air vent.)
Once we learned about the Erie Canal, Niagara River and Escarpment, we moved over to explore the Great Lakes. One of the these lakes, with water coming from the Niagara River, is Lake Ontario. Along this lake, you will find farms, orchards, parks and a relaxing pace.
Lake Ontario is lined with small towns, farmer’s stands selling produce, ice cream shops, wineries and a “country” experience we’d pay big money for in Houston. Just think of all the farms that open up in October and we pay for the country fun.
Right across the street are shops, restaurants and ice cream parlors on the water.
5. More to Do
Find even more to do in Western New York from our latest trip, HERE!
For this trip, we flew on Southwest Airlines, which I’ve decided I really like for family travel, and can tell you all about it if you ask. Also, we stayed on the New York side of the border. If you plan to cross over to Canada, you need a passport.
If you are looking for a fun, educational, reasonable, laid pack vacation, consider Western New York! Give each spot a day to explore, and enjoy!
(And go HERE to explore the nearby Southern Tier.)